8 Myths About Sex Differences

Agustín Fuentes points out that when it comes to men and women, what “everyone knows” isn’t what science shows.

Everyone knows that men and women are really different. We think differently and act differently because we are wired differently.  I mean look at our brains and genitals: they are just plain different.  Right?

Wrong.

What if many of the things we assume about the biology of difference are not so different at all?  What if it is not our “wiring” but the ways in which our bodies and minds develop and play out in society that makes us seem so unalike?  Could it be that men and women are more similar than we think?

Yes, women give birth and lactate and men do not.  And yes, men are, on average, slightly larger than women and usually have greater upper body strength. There are these basic biological differences between the sexes and they are important…but why always focus on the differences and not the biological, and behavioral, similarities? Ahh, that would be because of gender.

Gender is a powerful reality; it is the perception and expectation of differences between males and females and it shapes both our bodies and our society. Gender differences are real and important, but they are not hard wired or even static.  There is no biological or evolutionary mandate that only women really care for babies and show emotions, or that males are the best at economics and politics and prefer beers and skirt-chasing to domestic bliss. These are patterns of gender roles and expectations that shape the ways we look at our biology and behavior.  They influence the way we expect the world to be. It is the strength of the societal myths about sex that fool us into thinking that men and women are so different by nature.

So let’s bust some of those myths.

 

1) Gender and sex are the same thing

Sex and gender are interconnected, but not the same thing.  Sex is a biological state that is measured via what chromosomes you have (XX or XY, usually) and aspects of your body and physiology.  Gender includes the roles, expectations and perceptions that a given society has for the sexes.  Most societies have two genders on a masculinity-femininity continuum.   Some have more.  We are born with a biological sex, but acquire gender.  There is a ton of individual diversity within societies and sexes in regards to how sex and gender play out in behavior and personality.  There is an extensive body of data demonstrating this, but people interested only in specific differences between men and women choose to ignore it.

2)  Male and female genitals are totally different

Most people think that male and female genitals are about as different as can be: penis=male and vagina=female.  But even this basic dichotomy is not quite correct:  the genitals emerge from the same mass of embryonic tissue.  For the first six weeks of life the tissue masses develop identically.  At about 6-7 weeks, depending on whether the fetus has XX or XY chromosomes (usually), the tissues to start to differentiate. One part of the tissues begins to form the clitoris or penis and another forms the labia or scrotum. Another area begins to form into either the testes or the ovaries. This means that physiologically, male and female genitals are made of the same stuff and work in similar ways.

 

3) Male and female brains are different

If there were really deep seated differences between male and female human behavior and biology they should show up in the brain.  The genitals start in the same place and end up looking different, the brain does not. Our brains are pretty much the same.  Male brains are a bit bigger than females’ (like their bodies) and females’ brains stop growing earlier than males (as with their bodies).  However, whatever one may believe about other organs, in the case of healthy brains, size really does NOT matter one iota. There also might be a few differences in a small part of the brain called the straight gyrus (need more testing in this one).  Other than these minor aspects there are no consistent and replicated reliable differences in male and female brains; it is a human brain…but how we use it is another matter.

 

4) Hormones make the difference

Everyone thinks that males and females have different hormones…testosterone for men and estrogen for women. Nope, all the actual hormones in males and females are the same: there are no male-only or female-only hormones.  Both men and women can get a flood of testosterone when they get into a fight or take part in an exhilarating sports match.  Both men and women can get a flood of oxytocin and prolactin when they pick up a newborn baby.   There can be differences in the levels, patterns, and impacts of some of these hormones in male and female bodies, but individual variation is often more important than the variation between the sexes.

 

5) Men are more aggressive than women

It all depends what you mean by aggression.  Men and women are not different in expressing anger and general aggression, but men are more likely to use physical aggression overall.  The sexes are more or less the same when aggressing towards one another, but men are larger and, usually, stronger. Men are not naturally “more aggressive” than women, but can use physical aggression more effectively than women can (barring guns and other weapons).  This pattern says more about gender, societies, and male physical size than it does about a hard-wired human nature.

 

6) Women are natural parents and men are not

Women give birth and men do not.  Women lactate and men do not.  However, both men and women have the same potential hormonal responses to infants (with a lot of variation between individuals).  Human infants are amazingly helpless and needy and we know that throughout our species history it has taken a lot of people to raise kids.  Human bodies and minds are capable of parenting regardless of sex, and our entire history of success as a species is because both males and females (of all ages) have helped raise the next generation. Women give birth and nurse, but we can all care for children; neither sex automatically becomes a better parent than the other.

 

7) Men want sex more than women

This is what most people assume… however, when researchers look at what people actually do, the data show  that men and women have more or less the same amount of sex in the same kinds of ways across the lifespan (remember it does take two to tango).  But there are some important differences in sexual interest.  For example, married women report lower interest in sex with their husbands the longer they’ve been with them and younger men report higher frequencies of masturbation and interest in visual pornography.  But are these really biological sex differences or something else?  We still have a lot to learn about sexuality…and as with many other areas it looks like variation is highest between individuals not between sexes.

 

8) Women want relationships more than men

Not biologically speaking… Both male and female bodies respond in the same ways to pair-bonding and there is no biological difference in patterns of attachment or desire. However, survey data suggest that  men want many more partners over their lifetime than women.  Nonetheless, if you look not at the average of male and female responses, but rather the median (the actual middle of the range of answers), both men and women are extremely close.  This is because more men report extremely high numbers than do women and thus their average is higher.  Is this biology or maybe a bit of gender roles rearing their head?  In reality both men and women want to be with others in a wide range of sexual and emotional relationships…again individual variation is more than between the sexes.

 

Image: Male and female thumbprint from Shutterstock

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Flight or Fight
Forever Boogies
Are You A Narcissist?

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Agustin Fuentes

Agustín Fuentes, trained in Zoology and Anthropology, is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His research delves into the how and why of being human. From chasing monkeys in the jungles and cities of Asia, to exploring the lives of our evolutionary ancestors, to examining what people actually do across the globe, Professor Fuentes is interested in both the big questions and the small details of what makes humans and our closest relatives tick.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    Excellent points.

    I think the biggest myth comes from the biggest failure to think logically about gender: the myth that “male” and “female” are opposites of each other, because two things that are very different must be opposites of each other. Even if men and women were different from each other in every single area you can think of, that wouldn’t make them opposites of each other. So, they are even less opposites when they have a lot in common. There really is no such thing as “the opposite sex.” The bipolar binary is itself a giant myth.

    I like the model of overlapping bell curves. Not all men are bigger and stronger than all women. The strongest female weightlifter is stronger than the vast majority of men, and the fastest female sprinter is faster than 99% of men. The big differences are in degree, not in kind.

    By the way, a small percentage of men do lactate, though the liquid produced is not really the same as breast milk.

    By the way #2, not all women have babies, of course. Not all women who want to have babies actually can. A woman who hasn’t given birth has given birth just as often as any man. So there’s that overlap as well. One could also just as easily say that a man can get someone pregnant, but a woman cannot.

    • spidaman3 says:

      The average man should be stronger and faster than 99% of all women

      • What exactly do you mean by “should?”

        • spidaman3 says:

          should as in, he should be expected to. Also I didn’t add “at the same weight” which I should. But yeah, your average man should be expected stronger and faster than about 99% of the women his size. If he’s not, get him on a serious weight training program and in about 2 or 3 months and he should be there.

          • Except that there are plenty of men who just don’t put on muscle…or would have to work out a hell of a lot to put on muscle. My problem with the “should” in what you said is that it implied that you think that a man who’s not faster/stronger than most women is somehow doing something wrong. In my experience, and from what I’ve read about it…the differences in abilities are more individual (rather than gender based) when you’re talking about average healthy people.

            Plus, like, don’t you think this expectation for men to be physically stronger puts unfair pressure on men? It just seems to cause problems. Like, I’ll get pissed off when a guy assumes I can’t open a pickle jar (or whatever). He gets frustrated when it turns out he can’t (but I can). It just ends up being a mess.

            • spidaman3 says:

              Most professional trainers would tell you that men like that are far and in-between (which is why I used the term average). If his body is producing the average amount of testosterone and it he’s not devoid of receptors inside of his nucleus, then yes he should be expected to be stronger and faster if he receives the proper training. The chances that you are apart of the 0.01% who has awful genetics is pretty low. If you aren’t putting much muscle, most people who are bigger and more experienced will tell you that you aren’t eating enough. That’s actually the problem most of the time. A trainer takes a skinny guy who uses the excuse that he can’t get big because he has bad genes will simply put him on a diet where he gets a calorie surplus and he will get more muscular. Other problems could be he is injured, he doesn’t know how to work out (there is actually a lot of technique in lifting weights), or he’s not allowing himself to recover. Those factors need to be considered before you chalk it up to bad genetics.

              And no it’s not putting undo pressure, it is a fact that men have a lot more strength potential then women. Like deeper voices and more facial hair. There are men in the gym who are bigger than me, but a lot of them congratulate me because I am stronger than them. Is it wrong for me to believe they should be stronger than me? No, bigger people are normally stronger than smaller people. Could there be something else as to why they aren’t stronger me? Of course, but I don’t doubt that if they modified their lifts and humbled themselves then they would be stronger than me.

            • You seem to not understand that exceptions do not disprove the rule, HeatherN.

              Men and women are two separate and distinct categories that we put “individuals” into.

      • No, Spidaman, not faster. You’re clearly not a runner. The average man is a bit faster than the average woman, but he is slower than a rather large number of women. Run a few races, and you will see this clearly.

  2. “There can be differences in the levels, patterns, and impacts of some of these hormones in male and female bodies, but individual variation is often more important than the variation between the sexes.”

    More important?

    Lewontin’s Fallacy:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1893020/?tool=pmcentrez

    One of my favorite bloggers on the subject:

    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/003951.html

  3. Eric M. says:

    1) Gender and sex are the same thing

    “Most societies have two genders on a masculinity-femininity continuum.”

    Why have most societies developed that way? Coincidence?

    2) Male and female genitals are totally different?

    Not a myth. They are very different. Never saw the Mrs.’ genitals @ 6-7 weeks gestation; by the time I met her, her genitals were way different than mine.

    3) Male and female brains are different

    Not a myth. Male and female brains ARE different.

    http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/how-male-female-brains-differ

    4) Hormones make the difference

    Differences in hormone LEVELS can make a very big difference.

    5) Men are more aggressive than women

    See #4.

    6) Women are natural parents and men are not

    Who thinks this? Pretty sure just about everyone knows that it takes two to make and parent children. However, women tend to respond differently to babies who are not theirs than men do, and do so early in life.

    Too much emphasis on baby and toddler-hood. Children aren’t babies for very long; they are teenagers far longer; hence, caring for teenagers is a far bigger/harder job than caring for an infant.

    7) Men want sex more than women

    Not a myth considering the entire course of the life of the average man vs. the average woman.

    8) Women want relationships more than men

    Depends what is meant by relationships. Women do far more wedding planning and start far younger than men.

    • “1) Gender and sex are the same thing

      “Most societies have two genders on a masculinity-femininity continuum.”

      Why have most societies developed that way? Coincidence? ”

      Not coincidence, but artificial. To prevent outliers (because not being normal is EVILLL I tell you). Not to signify much.

      “2) Male and female genitals are totally different?

      Not a myth. They are very different. Never saw the Mrs.’ genitals @ 6-7 weeks gestation; by the time I met her, her genitals were way different than mine. ”

      They come from the same mass of tissue and only differ due to a trigger of certain chemicals at keypoints in time. Not genes themselves. We all have nipples for the same reason.

      “3) Male and female brains are different

      Not a myth. Male and female brains ARE different.

      http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/how-male-female-brains-differ

      Brains differ in the hypothalamus for sex identity. That’s about the only sex difference that matters. Spatial awareness and all that is statistical, not absolute. Anti-intellectualism (or labeling the act girly) has done a LOT more to discourage boys from reading than anything biological.

      “4) Hormones make the difference

      Differences in hormone LEVELS can make a very big difference”

      This is very true. Though they may not affect individuals the same for similar (or the exact same) levels of hormones. Case by case basis if you’re a doctor. Generalize if you’re a sociologist.

      “5) Men are more aggressive than women

      See #4.”

      The jury is still out on aggression and hormones.

      “7) Men want sex more than women

      Not a myth considering the entire course of the life of the average man vs. the average woman. ”

      Sold to them as a yardstick to measure their worth as a person. For sure will affect many. Also: Myth of Men not being hot strikes to make men want what appears to be scarce (them being desired).

      “8 ) Women want relationships more than men

      Depends what is meant by relationships. Women do far more wedding planning and start far younger than men.”

      Weddings is sold to women since early childhood as THE best day of their life, the day they get to be a princess, and all that. Not biological.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I would add that hormone levels are in part affected by the environment. They are not just internal engines driving behavior. Sometimes it’s your behavior that affects your hormones more than the other way around. For example, rooting for the team that wins the Super Bowl leads to a different testosterone level than rooting for the team that loses the Super Bowl.

      • Michael P says:

        Just to reinforce that we don’t know enough about hormones to be making sweeping claims about their effects on men and women… Experiments carried out on modified mice and on human adolescents have shown that administered estrogen may encourage aggression in both males and females.

        It seems to me that most people have been raised on a “male–>testosterone–>aggression, female–>estrogen–>nurturing” dichotomy that is false through and through. The culture at large sucks! (Now who wants a direct democracy, really?)

    • BoneChina says:

      Well said, Schala. Simon Baron-Cohen (brother of the buffoon) has written some good stuff on this too. “The Essential Difference” and “The Extreme Male Brain”. I notice neither are on Augustin’s reading list below.

      There’s definitely some overconfidence on both sides of the argument: Gender – Nature or Nurture? However, the “all gender is a construct” crew are growing in numbers and in sanctimony, and against the evidence as far as I can see.

      • I assume your comment was meant for Eric M.? Schala appeared to me to be agreeing with the original article…i.e. that gender is a social construct.

      • Read Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. It systematically busts all of Baron-Cohen’s pseudoscience.

    • Liberal Agenda Fails says:

      Well written.

    • I couldn’t agree more. And I wanted two things. “Barring guns and weapons”, as said in number 5, is ridiculous. Just look at crime done, with and without weapons. Almost exclusively done by males. That says a lot. And about caring for infants, I wanted to add that women have breasts to nurse a baby, and those breasts, when used to nurse, release oxytocin in mother’s brain which creates an incredible bond between her and the baby each and every time she nurses. She literally loves the baby more than dad and the hormone responsible is released when she cares for that infant – no more so than when she cares for it by feeding it with her body, which her body was designed to do. Not saying this article isn’t useful to an extent, but overall it minimizes some very important facts while trumpeting others. I agree we need to emphasize how similar males and females are but we are fundamentally different and you can’t ignore that.

      • Loves the baby more? So what happens when a mother commits murder of a child she breastfed but the father didn’t? What processes of bonding happen with the father?

  4. (3) and (4) : Check out “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

  5. agustin says:

    Hi Folks,

    The auhtor here. Here are some good readings on this topic (that the data to support theassertions in the brief blog):

    A. Fausto-Sterling (2012) Sex/Gender: biology in a social world. Routledge Press & 2000), Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality

    L. Eliot (2009) Pink brain Blue brain. Houhgton Mifflin Harcourt

    Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., Fortenberry, J.D. (2010) Sexual behavior in the united states: results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94. J. Sex Med. 7(suppl. 5):255-265

    R.M. Jordan-Young (2010) Brainstorm: the flaws in the science of sex differences. Harvard University Press

    Z. Tang-Martinez (2000), Paradigms and primates: Bateman’s principle, passive females, and perspectives from other taxa, in S. C. Strum and L. M. Fedigan, eds., Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society, pp. 261–74;

    M. Borgerhoff-Mulder and K. Rauch (2009), Sexual conflict in humans: Variations and solutions, Evolutionary Anthropology 18: 201–14.

    J. L. Wood, D. Heitmiller, N. C. Andreasen, and P. Nopoulos (2008), Morphology of the ventral frontal cortex: relationship to femininity and social cognition, Cerebral Cortex 18: 534–40.

    K. Bishop and D. Wahlsten (1997), Sex differences in the human corpus callosum: Myth or reality? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 21(5): 581–601.

    Janet Shibley Hyde (2005), The gender similarities hypothesis, American Psychologist 60(6): 581–92.

    J. Archer (2009a), Does sexual selection explain human sex differences in aggression? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32: 249–311

  6. agustin says:

    sorry, first bit should read-
    “The author here. Here are some good readings on this topic (with data to support the assertions in the brief blog):

  7. Absolutely love this.

  8. Any idea why women are able to have multiple orgasms generally and men generally can’t? I’ve always wondered if the brains of each sex on average is different, but even if it is you could reach an answer to a problem from multiple ways, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean 1 sex is better at math for instance vs the other.

    In the nature vs nurture debate, I believe it’s both that make us who we are. When science can fully prove one or the other then I’ll reconsider but from what I see it’s a mix of both. Thanks for the article, it is quite interesting.

    • Well…from my experience women aren’t able to have multiple orgasms “generally.” Some women can have multiple orgasms sometimes. My understanding is that it’s more likely for a woman than a man because apparently after men orgasm they go through a longer “refractory period,” where they’re unresponsive. There’s an interesting article here, about it. I’ve no idea how accurate it is when it’s discussing men’s orgasms, though.

      • And men can have multiple orgasms, though it’s incredibly rarer than females being able too. I sure has hell haven’t stumbled upon this elusive multiple orgasm. I’m done after one.

        • I was able to give my boyfriend two orgasms within five minutes once. Just had to stimulate him before he went too deep in the refractory period. Note that we don’t do PIV at all.

      • wellokaythen says:

        Certainly easier for a woman to fake multiple orgasms than for a man to fake multiple orgasms….

      • I’ve never been really clear on what qualifies as a multiple orgasm. I’ve been able to get a 2nd orgasm abt 15-20 minutes after the first one but I don’t know if that really counts. The 2 nd one is usually much less intense than the 1st and takes so much effort, it’s hardly worth it.

  9. Radical… Let’s say I fully embrace this argument ” Gender is a social construct”

    So now we have  2 individuals of equal mental & emotional capacities  but one has the added benefit of an internal womb as an anchor to this god forsaken existence while the other has nothing but a metaphysical 
    desire to give birth to his own identity through productive work & societal recognition. ie “Being a Man”

    The Physical womb that women take for granted leads men to search for an existential womb or face the prospects of being considered a weak nonexistent stillborn creature. This is what fuels our agreassion our narcissism, our hostility.

    Like a mouse caught in a glue trap, society has and always will HAAATE the very existence of weak “womb less” men as it bends over backwards to rescue weak women.

    Show me how that’s ever going to change and I’ll concede that men and women are the same.

  10. Mark Neil says:

    “There can be differences in the levels, patterns, and impacts of some of these hormones in male and female bodies, but individual variation is often more important than the variation between the sexes.”

    What’s the evidence for this? If different levels as found between the sex’s aren’t as “important” as individual variations, why do trans individuals undergo hormone therapy? Are you suggesting some trans men and women don’t need to undergo the therapy to attain those secondary sex characteristics? Why do trans individuals acknowledge behavioral and emotional changes due to this therapy?

    http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/sir-can-you-help-me-with-this/

    • “What’s the evidence for this? If different levels as found between the sex’s aren’t as “important” as individual variations, why do trans individuals undergo hormone therapy? Are you suggesting some trans men and women don’t need to undergo the therapy to attain those secondary sex characteristics? Why do trans individuals acknowledge behavioral and emotional changes due to this therapy?”

      I’m trans, and have taken hormone therapy. And it probably doesn’t affect me the same as the next trans person. Go figure heh? That’s what is meant.

      • Mark Neil says:

        “I’m trans, and have taken hormone therapy. And it probably doesn’t affect me the same as the next trans person.”

        Never said it would, but it DID affect you, did it not? It DID make a difference, based not on the hormone levels you had, but by the hormone levels your identified gender was deemed to have, correct? My point is, the writter dismisses the different levels of hormones between the sex as LESS relevant than the hormone levels from individual to individual, even within the same sex. Yes, I acknowledge two people will be affected differently with the exact same hormone levels, but to suggest that the differences in levels experienced by the sex isn’t as relevant as that experienced by two men or two women, and to make that claim without any support whatsoever… I’m sorry, but I’m going to challenge that.

        (To clarify, I’m not suggesting you made these claims, the author did)

  11. I want to know why there is this relentless pressure for us to believe that we are the same? I find that life is infinitely more interesting if I look for the differences between people. My wife and I love life together because of sameness and difference. We have similar interests and find enjoyment and satisfaction in them, that’s what brought us together. What we celebrate, though, are the differences, the polarity between us. We are man and woman, male and female, masculine and feminine. We are not opposites but there is a polarity, a tension, a spark between us that comes from the differences between us. They are biological, emotional, hormonal and logical. Our life together grows because we explore and celebrate these differences. Don’t spoil our fun by telling us we are the same!

    • He’s saying the differences are based on cultural influences, not biology. Or at least, a lot of what we perceive as biological differences are actually cultural ones. He’s not saying those differences don’t exist at all.

      Part of the problem with assuming that the differences between men and women are biological in nature is that it becomes very easy to be prescriptive with them. Anyone who doesn’t fit into this binary then ends up feeling like they need to change so that they are “real men” or “real women.”

      • Mark Neil says:

        “Anyone who doesn’t fit into this binary then ends up feeling like they need to change so that they are “real men” or “real women.””

        But isn’t one of the most extreme examples of this transgenders, who DO change their biology (hormone levels at least) to become the “real” gender they believe themselves to be? I think people are far to eager and willing to dismiss the impact of biology on sex differences aside from the immediately obvious (genitals, breasts, facial hair). I think the idea that biology actually impacts thought and emotional states and expressions is seen as dangerous and to be rejected at all costs by some people, and I don’t understand why?

        • “But isn’t one of the most extreme examples of this transgenders, who DO change their biology (hormone levels at least) to become the “real” gender they believe themselves to be?”

          This is a misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender. (If any transgender commenters/writers/lurkers want to correct anything I’m about to say, feel free. I’m just trying to explain it how I understand it).

          So here’s the thing…are there people who fit the binary? Well certainly. There are masculine men and feminine women, and that’s fine for them. There are also people who still identify with the gender that they were prescribed at birth, but don’t quite fit into the binary. A tomboy might fit into that…or a metrosexual guy (I hate that word). Now my understanding of the way gender and biological sex interact for transwomen and transmen is that their biological sex actually does not match their gender, full stop. It’s not that they’re just more masculine females or more feminine males…but rather that they are men with the wrong body, and women with the wrong body. And they aren’t even necessarily particularly masculine men or feminine women…it’s not as if transmen and women are ultra-masculine or feminine (but it just doesn’t fit with their diagnosed biological sex). I mean, one of my really good friends who’s a transman is actually quite feminine in many ways…actually in quite a few ways I’m more masculine than he is (well I was). But I’ve never identified as trans, and he very definitely identifies as trans.

          Which, I think just all points to the variety in human biology…that it’s more individual based rather than strictly divided between male/female, man/woman.

          • Mark Neil says:

            Have you ever asked him if he experienced noticeable changes in the way he thinks, interprets stuff, problem solves and feels (not to say he feels less or different emotions, but rather, what triggers those emotions) and expresses emotions upon transitioning through his hormone therapy? The idea that biology plays no role in these things is baffling to me given the testimonies I’ve read. And that is the argument the article makes by dismissing hormones and biology and claiming it’s all social engineering (part social engineering, I can agree on that, but to dismiss biology does sit with me).

            And what’s to say it’s not the masculine/feminine traits that make up tomboys and metrosexuals that aren’t the social engineering? Given the promotions of girls can be just like boys and the rejection of masculinity found within a great deal of our society, these outcomes are not that surprising as socially constructed.

            • I am a trans man and I have “experienced noticeable changes in the way [I] think, interpret stuff, problem solve and feel and express emotions [since] transitioning through hormone therapy” the last seven years.

            • Mark Neil says:

              Thank you for your reply. I first came in contact with the notion of cognitive changes when I read this article. More and more I am coming to the conclusion that these mental and emotional changes are the norm, rather than some random event a handful of trans people experience:

              http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/sir-can-you-help-me-with-this/

            • You’re welcome, Mark.

              There are so many factors involved in transitioning from female to male socially, legally, physically and mentally. The duration of time in transition and delivery method of testosterone (injections, gels, patches) also has an impact. So to does the geographic location, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, age, etc of the trans(sexual) man (i’m not speaking about transgender or genderqueer people).

              There are many great books written by trans men listed here: http://lousullivansociety.weebly.com/book-list.html

              I rely more on what trans men say about their lives than what gender theorists say about our lives.

      • Heather, he’s saying the differences are cultural and therefore, deep down, we are the same. That’s what I object to. Also note I specifically did not talk about a binary, I said we are not opposites, just different.

        I don’t assume a biological difference, I experience it. If you feel you need to change that’s your problem not mine. I’m not going to suppress nature because it makes you feel second best. Do what I do and celebrate differences rather than complain about them.

        • He’s saying the differences are cultural, and so all the differences you experience are individual and personal. Everyone isn’t the same, obviously…the point is that the variation among individuals is more important than the variation between two culturally constructed groups. We’ve taken a whole group of behaviours and labelled them as ‘masculine’ and a whole group of other behaviours and labelled them as ‘feminine’ and then we ascribed the ‘masculine’ behaviour onto biological males and the ‘feminine’ behaviour onto biological females. And then we went a step further and basically said – if you’re male and you’re not following enough of these masculine behaviours, you’re doing it wrong. And then we did the same thing for females and feminine behaviour.

          And that’s where the trouble lies. Some people are strong and stoic…but that doesn’t make them more manly. That just makes them strong and stoic. And just because their strong and stoic (traditionally masculine traits) doesn’t also mean that they’re aggressive and have a high libido (also traditionally masculine). We are all very different…but those differences are greater between individuals than between two culturally constructed groups (man and woman).

          • He’s saying the differences are cultural, and so all the differences you experience are individual and personal. Everyone isn’t the same, obviously…the point is that the variation among individuals is more important than the variation between two culturally constructed groups. We’ve taken a whole group of behaviours and labelled them as ‘masculine’ and a whole group of other behaviours and labelled them as ‘feminine’ and then we ascribed the ‘masculine’ behaviour onto biological males and the ‘feminine’ behaviour onto biological females. And then we went a step further and basically said – if you’re male and you’re not following enough of these masculine behaviours, you’re doing it wrong. And then we did the same thing for females and feminine behaviour.

            And that’s where the trouble lies. Some people are strong and stoic…but that doesn’t make them more manly. That just makes them strong and stoic. And just because their strong and stoic (traditionally masculine traits) doesn’t also mean that they’re aggressive and have a high libido (also traditionally masculine). We are all very different…but those differences are greater between individuals than between two culturally constructed groups (man and woman).

            The point you miss is that I completely disagree with you and think you are just plain wrong. Let me unpack what you say…

            1. “… and so all the differences you experience are individual and personal.” – There are some that are individual and personal, but the ones that set us apart as a couple are based on biology and it’s consequences.

            2. “… the point is that the variation among individuals is more important than the variation between two culturally constructed groups.” I completely disagree. Much of what is individual and personal between us is in fact similar or the same, as I said, that’s what brought us together. What is markedly different between us is based on biology and it’s consequences.

            3. “We’ve taken a whole group of behaviours and labelled them as ‘masculine’ and a whole group of other behaviours and labelled them as ‘feminine’ and then we ascribed the ‘masculine’ behaviour onto biological males and the ‘feminine’ behaviour onto biological females.” – No, we’ve observed a biological group, ‘males’, and identified common behaviours and labelled them ‘masculine, similarly with ‘females’ and ‘feminine’. Whether we get this right is an issue to be discussed elsewhere, but it starts with biology and results in identified behaviours.

            4. “And then we went a step further and basically said – if you’re male and you’re not following enough of these masculine behaviours, you’re doing it wrong. And then we did the same thing for females and feminine behaviour.” – No, who’s done this, I haven’t in any way. You are the one making this connection.

            5. “Some people are strong and stoic…but that doesn’t make them more manly. That just makes them strong and stoic. And just because their strong and stoic (traditionally masculine traits) doesn’t also mean that they’re aggressive and have a high libido (also traditionally masculine).” – You have it completely the wrong way round. On average being a man would suggest a greater tendency to being strong and stoic, not the other way round. Of course individual differences come in, mainly via cultural conditioning, which govern how much that tendency becomes reality.

            6. “We are all very different…but those differences are greater between individuals than between two culturally constructed groups (man and woman).” – The groups are not culturally constructed they stem from biology and it’s consequences.

            Clearly there is much to discuss but you are wrong in attributing differences to purely cultural reason when they start with biology and move out from there. Also there is not a binary in operation here because there are many instances where people don’t fit the simple biological differences between men and women. This, however, does not change the situation for the majority of people.

            • Right let me back up…I’m an archaeologist and anthropologist, so that’ll give you a bit of context as to where I’m coming from. This article is written an anthropologist and zoologist, so that’ll tell you where he’s coming from. Anyway, on to the rest:

              “4. “And then we went a step further and basically said – if you’re male and you’re not following enough of these masculine behaviours, you’re doing it wrong. And then we did the same thing for females and feminine behaviour.” – No, who’s done this, I haven’t in any way. You are the one making this connection.”

              As to your question of “who’s done this?” Society at large. Society creates gender norms and expects people to follow them. When an individual doesn’t, they are ridiculed…the classic example being the feminine boy being bullied for being feminine.

              “Also there is not a binary in operation here because there are many instances where people don’t fit the simple biological differences between men and women.”

              And yet western culture created that binary. Other cultures have created a binary gender system as well, though not all of them. But the point is that cultures have created the binary (men/women) not biology.

              “You have it completely the wrong way round. On average being a man would suggest a greater tendency to being strong and stoic, not the other way round. Of course individual differences come in, mainly via cultural conditioning, which govern how much that tendency becomes reality.”

              Okay, with this, let me see if I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that without culture, if theoretically we were only biology, then the binary would exist? That it is culture which creates individual variation, while biology creates relatively homogeneous behaviour within each biological sex?

            • Well I’m a man, that’s where I’m coming from… Does that make a difference? I don’t know. I am talking from my experience, I sense you are talking from theory. I think we’re from different planets…

            • It’s problematic to extrapolate personal experiences onto society as a whole. Your personal experience is totally valid, of course…but only for you. Just like my personal experience is totally valid…only for me. But we all have very different experiences, which is where the theory comes in…which is where this article comes in. The author of the article cites publications that back up his claims…publications that are based on objective research (or as close to objective as you can get).

            • Hmm… Research vs Experience… I have learned over the years that research can often be made to fit any theory. I have not inspected or validated the research or it’s basis so I will stick with my experience. Yes, it’s problematic to extrapolate my many years of experience onto society as a whole, no more than it is to extrapolate research onto society as a whole.

            • “I have learned over the years that research can often be made to fit any theory.”

              Which is why it’s important to understand the academic literature about an academic topic…to understand where the theories and research are problematic and to understand where they make sense. Also, this is why peer reviewed publications are treated with more weight than something that is self-published.

              “Yes, it’s problematic to extrapolate my many years of experience onto society as a whole, no more than it is to extrapolate research onto society as a whole.”

              When that research, and the theories that are discussed as a means to explain that research, are about societies as a whole, then no it’s not equally problematic. A person’s personal experiences aren’t peer reviewed. They aren’t analysed by multiple academics with training and a great deal of knowledge about a subject. Academic research can discover and define trends, whereas personal experiences cannot.

              What personal experiences can do is provide a little snapshot of one (our of many) possibilities. If I were to make an assertion that, say, most men prefer skinny women. Then you could use your personal experiences to argue against that, or to help affirm it. But what you can’t do is make your own assertion (say, most women prefer muscular women) based only on personal experiences…because, as I mentioned, personal experiences are too limited in scope and too subjective to draw any larger conclusions around them.

            • Michael P says:

              Graham, bottom line is, you’re not an effing scientist, so don’t make scientific claims or use scientific jargon. It’s irresponsible. I like some of the things you say some of the time because you’re occasionally onto something. In this case, you’re not. As far as I know, you have not undertaken a scientific study of biology at any level–if you’ve got credentials otherwise refuting this, by all means, have at it. But if you don’t, then all of your bandying about of biological blah blah blah is misleading and you’re just turning yourself into another panderer.

            • The objectivity of research is a subjective matter. Between evolutionary biology and social constructionism, I find the former far more convincing and reflective of what I and most of my male peers experience as males.

              As Graham was saying, he experiences his constitution deeply and rejects the argument his disposition is socially constructed. I and many men feel the same way, I would venture to say the vast majority of men. In a great many cases we go against what is sanctioned by society at large or our particular subculture, in order to satisfy the natural disposition that many of us share. So there need be no pressure to be this way. A disproportionately large number of men are this way naturally, despite coming from different eras, countries and cultures. There is no sense in which we feel we are forcing ourselves to fit a model which has been artificially constructed for us, despite there being many aspects of our culture which are socially constructed. Behaving and experiencing in the way that many of us do feels natural and comfortable, despite attempts to pathologies some of it.

            • Michael P says:

              LOL Scarbo. I don’t think you understand what evolutionary biology says and doesn’t say on this topic. Your views appear to have followed a, shall we say, path divergent from the evolution of evolutionary biology.

              Thank god you guys don’t speak for everyone, even though you pretend to.

            • Sorry, I meant evolutionary psychology.

            • Michael P says:

              Either way. Experts in neither field make the sweeping claims you make about so-called cultural universals. You take a reductionist view, and you take it with such certainty, that there’s no reason for anyone to take what you’re saying seriously. It’s clear you’re not someone working in that field. BESIDES which, evolutionary psychology as *science* is a low rung on the ladder, often being, at this stage, based on what some scientists might want to call guesswork.

              There is SOME excellent and interesting work being done, but for people like you, who hear about it through media “pop science” coverage and not through the actual published papers, the end result is a distortion meant to catch people’s eye. For instance, research into a possible biological explanation for monogamy (which many people today like to claim is “not natural,” without knowing anything) has come up with many many viable answers over the years. Most recently there have been *mathematical* models used to test these ideas, and the number of things that actually work–that lead to monogamy–is not just one. But whenever a magazine reports on a guy’s work, the headline is something to the effect of “Monogamy Explained!” as if, “oh, before, we didn’t have any idea, but now we know!” Simply not true.

            • I won’t entertain your ad hominem attack, but I will say my comments were not specific enough to be described as reductionist, not that that is always a bad thing. In any case, I reject the claim. Understanding human behaviour is obviously a very complex process which should not be reduced to one factor. As for sweeping claims, my comments are nothing compared to social constructionists who deny biology has any influence on the perception and behaviour of the sexes.

              The point of my post was to suggest an alternative area of research that would support Graham’s, mine and many other people’s belief that there are biological influences which affect us psychologically and which have a distinct impact on a disproportionately large number of men and women’s perception and behaviour. That’s not to say this is the only influence or that there is no overlapping.

              I was responding to HeatherN’s comment to Graham on the importance of research over experience in this debate. In case he was not already aware, now he will be able to draw from two different schools of thought and areas of research on this subject, one of which provides more data that supports the view he expressed.

              I found it amusing that you sort to denigrate evolutionary psychology in your first paragraph, and then in your very next utterance suggest it could provide an explanation for monogamy, funny.

            • Michael P says:

              I didn’t denigrate evolutionary psychology. I implied that it hasn’t reached an advanced stage and that, amongst sciences, it has a hard time drawing strong conclusions–much like its psychological brothers and sisters. And, also much like them, it is seized upon by media as having “the answer” when what it has is clever (perhaps even smart) ideas suggested by smart (or perhaps sometimes only clever) people. And most of those people know quite well the limitations of their science. You can’t be a mainstream scientist without knowing the limitations. But you can be a media producer, or a media consumer, without knowing anything about anything but how to produce or consume media, and how to spit it back out.

              If you’ll read over Graham’s writing above, you’ll be forced to agree that his was not the middle ground you are pretending it was. And HeatherN’s responses were not at all what you’re saying it was–maybe you need to read those again.

    • Kirsten (in MT) says:

      “I want to know why there is this relentless pressure for us to believe that we are the same?”

      This isn’t relentless pressure for us to believe that we are the same. In fact, it is very much the opposite. The author is making the case that diverse variation between individuals within each category very frequently is MUCH MORE than the variation between the averages of each category. In other words, we are MUCH MORE DIFFERENT from individual to individual than people stuck to common male/female stereotypes are often willing to acknowledge.

  12. Graham has an opinion, as does the author of this article, as does everyone who has posted a comment. He does not believe men and women are psychologically the same and that only cultural influences make them perceive and behave differently. He believes that some of the psychological differences he sees between himself and his wife, and by extension between men and women generally, stem from biological differences. He does not say there are not cultural influences also. I see nothing wrong with him holding this opinion; I share it, as do many others. This is not an outlandish claim. There is a great deal of research to support this view.

    I know there are some quarters which are resistant to exploring this area, for various ideological and personal reasons, but that’s tough. They don’t get to bully everyone else into not having the view expressed by Graham just because it does not square with their agenda.

  13. Quadruple A says:

    3) Male and female brains are different

    I’ve read several neurology/physiological psychology textbooks that have taught me that this is not a myth. I did some online research and came across this.
    “In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of – or connections between – these processing centers.

    This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050121100142.htm

    • “In general” might mean 60% of men vs 40% of women are this way (what is called Male Typical), and vice-versa for Female Typical. It doesn’t say anything about universal claims.

    • Michael P says:

      Dude, first of all, science NEWS is always sensationalized to some degree. The journalists writing science news know that very well–they are EXPECTED to make some loaded statements, rather than carefully qualifying their views. Here’s how it works: someone in the news organization tells a reporter named Qwer to check out what this scientist named Asdf has to say about some research he’s been doing. Qwer calls Asdf and does a brief interview, writing down some quotations that stick out. Qwer then goes and checks over some of the source material, getting a sort of grasp on the *kind* of thing that Asdf’s team was looking for. But, being a journalist, and not a scientist, Qwer puts it all together and takes it to mean, “Egads, Asdf proved that the sky is green!” After the article appears, saying that “Asdf has Discovered that the Sky is Actually Green!”, people call up Asdf and send him all kinds of crazy email asking him how he can possibly say such a thing, how blasphemous it is, etc. Asdf shakes his head to himself, swearing he’ll never give another interview again, because his team never SAID that they *proved* *anything*–all they did was, they found out that “__% of the light we observed over the course of the experiment was actually green; possible explanations for this are ___, …. ___, … etc. This research supports directions for future study into this phenomenon, such as…” And in the real world, some other teams of scientists immediately set about trying to REPEAT Asdf’s result, which takes time.

      And there’s the other issue. This is a news report, first of all, and it’s about one bit of research, without any indication of studies confirming the supposed conclusion; and on top of that, it relies on other bits of research, and they ALL fall under the heading of a science that is, in many ways, still in its infancy.

      You might have been more compelling if you simply criticized the fact that we have NO sources given for the author’s claim that there are no brain differences besides size and small differences in certain areas. It seems premature to rule differences *out*, since high-quality images and data on healthy male and female brain structures are still forthcoming. Hell, have you ever had an MRI done? They take forever, and their resolution is still not great. If they wanted better quality, they would need to take even LONGER. With recent developments in the underlying *mathematics* and engineering behind compressed sensing, the time required should decrease (allowing an increase in quality, as well) considerably in the near future. But for now, data is still kinda rough, so who even KNOWS what’s lurking in there, statistically speaking?

  14. Liberal Agenda Fails says:

    If you need science to tell you the difference between men and women, you are sad. The only people that believe there is no difference between sex and gender are liberals trying to create justify transgender freaks.

    • Michael P says:

      It’s not clear what point you are trying to make, but the angry political overtones of your comment make it clear you are (1) not focused on actually debating a topic and making convincing, rational arguments, and (2) at least somewhat crazy (maybe only a little, or maybe a lot–can’t say for sure).

      Insults don’t go very far on the web, and they don’t really have the effect you’re looking for. It’s surprising that I even saw your comment. Why not go hang out in a supermarket parking lot and heckle people who drive cars with bumper stickers you disagree with? You’ll reach a larger audience, and you won’t come off as someone who can’t make an argument, and who therefore has to resort to vaguely-directed name-calling.

      • Liberal Agenda Fails says:

        I’m pretty sure the point was made loud and clear, black and white, with no gray area at all. I’m not here to debate any of the nonsense in this article, I just stated my opinion. It’s too bad that my opinion is so upsetting to you that you feel the need to actually go out and name call.

        In addition, I am not in need of internet etiquette either. I am well aware of “how the internet works”. What is surprising is that you were so offended by a comment that you feel you are better than, and still responded. What I find even more surprising is the amount of people who troll the internet, like yourself, that feel that they are so important that they need to try and call people out that they don’t agree with. I see from your posts that you believe you are intelligent and witty, and like to engage in these battles of wits. I sir am sorry I can’t indulge you in a “battle of the wits” as I will never attack a man incapable of arming himself.

        • Michael P says:

          Lemme break it down for you.

          “If you need science to tell you the difference between men and women, you are sad.”
          First of all, a statement of the form “if x, then y” means that in the case that x happens, then y also happens. Now, I don’t know anyone who *needs* a scientist to tell him ONE difference between men and women. You can ask any teenager and get the response, “well, there’s the penis/vagina thing, for one.” Does that mean that we all know ALL of the differences between men and women? No. No, we do not, or otherwise, there wouldn’t be scientists doing brain research with men and women in different groups.

          With all of that said… It’s pretty clear that you REALLY meant, “If you bother to think about anything in this article, then you are pathetic.” And that particular “if x, then y” statement isn’t necessarily true. Whether or not someone is pathetic is a matter of opinion.

          Moving on.

          “The only people that believe there is no difference between sex and gender are liberals trying to create justify transgender freaks.” What do you mean? First of all, what liberals do you know who say “there is no difference between sex and gender”? I know plenty of liberals, many on this site, who say exactly the opposite, and say it emphatically–“there is a HUGE difference between sex and gender.” Second of all, the mere fact that you are trying to target liberals as an entire group (with an accusation that, as I said, isn’t really clear), and then you use the phrase “transgender freaks” tells us nothing except that you (1) don’t like liberals, (2) believe that liberals create transgendered people, and (3) that transgendered people are freaks.

          You don’t like liberals. Okay, fine. I don’t know how you can dismiss a whole group of people like that–I, myself, like some liberals. I don’t like some liberals. Ehh–they’re kind of like any other group of people, such as conservatives, capital-L Libertarians, lowercase-l libertarians, Episcopalians, baseball players, lion tamers, car salesmen, roommates, men, women… Pick any of those groups and I guarantee that amongst that group, I like some people, and I don’t like others. I agree with some on some things, and disagree with some on others. I think that’s very reasonable, and it keeps me open to hearing what people say. It makes it easier to have conversations with society at large, which includes some baseball players, than if I just said, “all you baseball players all do is try to f*ck up the world for the rest of us; you’re all wrong on everything.” But to each his own.

          Liberals create transgendered people? I just don’t believe that. Now, granted, I’ve never really *known* any transgendered people. I’ve known OF some, and gone to school with maybe a few, but our paths have never really crossed. So I won’t claim to be an authority on the subject. But one burning question that I have, when I see this statement, is, why? Why would liberals, as a group, try to create transgendered people? To undermine traditional values? To undermine creationism, maybe? Well, those are pretty goofy motivations. I don’t think it would be very efficient, especially considering my second burning question: HOW? How do you make a transgendered person? From what I understand, being transgender requires that a person has felt for a long time that he/she is living a lie with regards to his/her male/female personality and role, and the way his/her body matches his/her feelings.

          The only way is, I suppose, if some crazy group of liberals secretly FORCED some NON-TRANSGENDER people to have sex-reassignment surgery. Then those people would be in bodies that didn’t match their original feelings. They were in the right bodies, but then some crazy liberals forced them to undergo surgery and now they have the wrong bodies. Yes, that works, logically. But I think the FBI would have caught on. Unless the FBI is a liberal conspiracy, in which case I’ll be keeping away from Washington, D.C. (Who am I kidding, D.C. is bad enough, even if the FBI *isn’t* kidnapping people and mangling their genitals).

          And your final point… that transgendered people are freaks. Well, if we just take that word “freak” and unload it, I guess I have to give this one to you. It IS unusual to be transgender. It deviates significantly from the most common expressions of sexual identity. So, in the strictest sense, yes, a transgender person is a freak, much as a supergenius is a freak, a child with Down syndrome is a freak, and a 7’5″ Japanese man is a freak. However, if we give “freak” its connotation back–and this is all my speculation, because maybe you really didn’t mean it this way–then you just don’t like how strange transgender people seem to you. You have shut yourself off from anything that might clash with your preconceptions. After all, YOU aren’t transgender, and none of your FRIENDS are transgender (because if they were, then they’d stop being your friends). None of your FAMILY have struggled with transgender issues. And since no one you know is transgender, it must be “not natural” and “freaky” and “bizarre” that some people are. It’s not normal, because, in your experience, it JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN. So the fact that people are out there, trying to fight for better treatment of transgender people, it bothers you. Transgender people should be FIXED, because there’s something WRONG with them–they don’t fit into your narrow little world, with your friends and your family.

          There’s YOU, and the “natural” world of your friends and family, and anyone on TV who agrees with you and your friends and family; and then there’s THEM–the pathetic, transgender-Frankenstein-making liberals who need scientists to tell them that a man has a penis and a woman has a vagina. And they want to hurt you and tell you you’re wrong. They want to make YOU transgender, probably, and force you to marry your dog in a church of Satan.

          TL:DR?
          I don’t really expect you to read all of that. But I think it makes it clear what I meant about your earlier message. You weren’t making an argument, not really. You just wanted to lash out. And more people will listen to that kind of thing in a public place, like a supermarket parking lot, than on the web. (You kind of don’t have any choice, when you’re walking to your car, to listen to someone shouting at you).

  15. FlyingKal says:

    “7) Men want sex more than women

    This is what most people assume… however, when researchers look at what people actually do, the data show that men and women have more or less the same amount of sex in the same kinds of ways across the lifespan ”

    And, how do you measure the correlation between what people want and what they actually do?

  16. renee laprise says:

    Um … a guy wrote this right? hahaha
    Slight differences in hormone production are a big deal.
    Slight differences in the brain are a big deal.
    Differences in how the brain is used is a huge deal.

    We are different and we should embrace our differences rather than trying to prove we are the same.

  17. I can’t believe how many people want to hold on to this male and female myths. One which I find most troubling are the math – spatial reasoning. This is very problematic because there are so many variations and individuals. There is no way to make blunt statements, because our society tends to label ability by weather you are male or female. In China for instance, many more women take higher math at university than American women, they also major in all forms of engineering and physics. It’s expected in other pars of the world for women to take STEM, no one makes a big deal of it. In America we hold unto these myths and look pretty stupid in the long run. When will we in the US view everyone as an individual. We need to stop enforcing stereotypes and myths, or we will sink as a society.

    For example, my brother is very fluent in five languages , while my strong points are math, spatial reasoning and science. Even though he has a very high IQ, we both do, he is terrible at math.

    When I tell American men I majored in math, they give me that look, then say, “women aren’t good at math” I tell Asia and Middle Eastern men I majored in math, and they don’t think I’m some freak, the way the American men do. We have to leave these myth behind, or we will continue to slip in the world.

Trackbacks

  1. […] originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Republished here with […]

  2. […] 8 Myths About Sex Differences […]

  3. […] debate started with a post called ‘8 Myths About Sex Differences’ in it the author said, “Gender is a powerful reality; it is the perception and expectation of […]

  4. […] This article was originally published on The Good Men Project. […]

  5. […] are coming under scrutiny and being discounted as “not that different.” For instance, this recent article published at The Good Men Project, a website that supposedly gives us a “glimpse of what […]

  6. […] и развод сред забранените думи в US училищатa * Myths about sex differences * A class of 4th graders was asked to write haikus. One child wrote this. It’s a masterpiece. […]

Speak Your Mind

*